Sometimes, It’s Hard to Pick Just One Watermark

By Jeff Kart, IJC

David Ullrich has devoted his life to Great Lakes issues.

He’s also contributed at least three times to the Watermark Project by Lake Ontario Waterkeeper. The group has partnered with IJC to document personal connections to the five lakes via video and written submissions.

Ullrich serves many roles in the basin. He’s US chair of the IJC’s Great Lakes Water Quality Board, and has contributed to policymaking in the freshwater seas in roles with the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, Great Lakes Fishery Commission, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other organizations.

Unsurprisingly, he couldn’t choose just one lake when recording a Watermark.

david ullrich watermark
David Ullrich

“My Watermark is Lake Michigan, but like with a family you can never pick your favorite child …” he says in one Watermark, recalling improvements due to a cleanup of contaminated sediment from the Sheyboygan River in Wisconsin.

In another Watermark, Ullrich focuses on growing up on Cochran Lake in Wisconsin, part of the Lake Superior watershed.

In the late 1960s and early ’70s, the lake was suffering from serious problems with algal blooms and excessive weed growth. “It bothered me a great deal that my lake was getting contaminated,” he remembers. Ullrich worked with a microbiology professor to sample the lake, and discovered fecal coliform and other contaminants, which led to cabin owners replacing their septic systems.

Finally, Ullrich talks more about what got him interested in environmental work.

He majored in English in undergraduate school and thought he’d be a teacher, but tried it, practiced it and decided he didn’t really like it. Spurred in part by a Time magazine cover story on the Cuyahoga River fire, Ullrich decided to pursue environmental law “which didn’t really exist at the time.”

He graduated on a Saturday afternoon in May 1973 from the University of Wisconsin, and two days later was working for the EPA in Chicago.

“The Great Lakes are one of the wonders of creation,” he says. “I think we just have to have a tremendous amount of respect for that which is created for us.”

Do you have a Watermark (or more) to tell? Look for recording stations at upcoming IJC and Lake Ontario Waterkeeper events, and find out how to submit your own at the Watermark Project website.

Jeff Kart is executive editor of the IJC’s monthly Great Lakes Connection and quarterly Water Matters newsletters.

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